I think it was my brother who first introduced me to the concept of Wiki-nationalism. This happens when an article on Wikipedia says very different things in different languages, reflecting the point of view of a given country or culture. I remember laughing while reading the article on Christopher Columbus in English, Spanish and Italian. The English version of Wikipedia defined him as “the first European to explore the Americas after the Vikings”; the Spanish version called him “a navigator of uncertain origin at the service of the Crown of Castile”; the Italian version said (somewhat predictably) that he was “an Italian captain and navigator”.
This was many years ago and Wikipedia evolved into a much more reputable source of information. I still find that the quality of articles varies a lot between different languages, usually with English Wikipedia leading in breadth and depth. But what I find truly marvelous is when the discrepancies between different versions open a fractal Universe of local knowledge.
This is the case with the article on Ice Cream. The English version describes very well all the forms and shapes in which Ice Cream comes. A big part of it is dedicated to the history of ice cream. Italy is barely mentioned, only to introduce Gelato as one of the kinds of ice creams out there.
So what happens when we move to the Italian version of the article? For Italians, the concept of Ice Cream maps exclusively to Gelato. And there, in the Origin section, we read about the importance of Sicily in the development of Gelato as we know it. Which is curious, since Sicily isn’t mentioned at all in the Ice Cream article.
Then we take this one step further and move to the Sicilian version of the article: Jilatu. There we discover the pivotal importance for Gelato of the ice commerce coming from Mount Etna, which is in itself a fascinating read for those versed in Sicilian. But the best part is when the loop is closed. English author William Irvine is referenced to describe the unusual ice-mania that characterized Sicilians at the beginning of the 19th century. Irvine tops it all when he compares the ice addiction of Sicilians to the ardent desire of gin of an English fishwoman.
No better way of closing this post than placing the actual book of Irvine here.
(Letters on Sicily – William Irvine, 1813)